Why & how I use Lee ND filters...

For over 8 years now I have been using Lee ND filters for a lot of my work. In July 2015 I was fortunate to be asked by Ricoh/Pentax to be ambassador for the Medium Format camera system - 645z. Up to this point I had used it for text shoots and a couple of paid jobs. One particualr thing to note about this camera ( at this time ) you can only sync up to 125th sec with most lighting systems. ( Phottix have released a trigger to sync to HS with Phottix flash only & Priolite MBX1000 Hotsync will allow you to sync up to 8000th at 1000w). More on that later...

Back in 2013 myself and a few friends spent two days training with lighting guru & photographer Joey L in London. I had used ND filters before this but not in this way. After the course we took the knowledge and experimented with it to make it our own style which I am refining every time I shoot to this day. 

Which ND's do you use & why..

After experimenting for a while with different brands I settled upon Lee filters - I had always used them in the past for different jobs but found that they gave me the best results for portraiture & location work. I mainly use the proGlass IRND filters - made from durable 2mm thick glass. I also use a wideangled Hood - This comes assembled with two filter slots, but can also be configured to take different filter combinations as well as a 105mm rotating polariser. It is ideal for shading wideangle lenses on large format cameras. It also looks great & helps reduce unwanted flare from entering the lens.  ND filters or Neutral Density filters are used to basically help cut out the light in very bright conditions and are traditionally used for landscape and slow exposure shots. 

I like to use stronger powers on my location lights. I mainly use Elnchrom ELB 1200  ( review of that to come soon..! ) | Ranger RX Speed AS & ELB 400w. I have learnt over the years that light reacts differently to the subject the stronger it is. For example - I am on a shoot and my background is very sunny, usually 3 or 4 stops lighter than the shade that my subject is in. I set my ISO as low as I can go and my shutterspeed on 125th which is the max with flash. To not blow out the highlights on the background my shutterspeed would need to be around f8 say. I am not a fan of shooting on small apertures preferring the softness that say f3.5 gives me. So by putting 3 or 4 stops of ND filters over the lens allows me to still shoot at 125th @f3.5 but keeping the power high as if it were f8. Thus giving me great balanced highlights whilst keeping my subject 'wrapped' in a stronger output of light. Shooting this way isn't for everyone as it can sometimes be quite tricky to actually see through an ND filter , especially 3 -6 stops! Particularly if the subject is moving as in the GB canoe shoot we did, probably my most testing shoot to date because of the movement. I just find it suits my style and my style has become because of this. Lee glass filters allow me to get the best image quality time & time again. They are rugged and I have to say I have dropped them on countless occasions and they still perform. LF also do a series of other filters - made from lightweight, optically superior polymeric materials which makes them tough, easy to handle and easy to clean. Which also come in cheaper than the Pro glass equivalents. 


Do you just use ND filters when you are using flash?

I would say mostly yes as it allows me to balance the ambient highlights against the light hitting the subject. I sometimes use ND filters on my family shoots also using a circular ND filter that screws onto the thread of the 50mm lens. As I like to shoot with daylight on wide open apertures also this can sometimes especially in the summer cause issues with strong light. A 2 stop ND allows me to still shoot on f2.5 ( my aperture of choice ) whilst keeping my shutterspeed under 8000th even at 50 iso! This doesn't happen too often as it's not often that sunny but even in the UK is does happen! 

Some of my images shot with the Pentax 645z - Lee ND filters - Elinchrom lights & Manfrotto stands & bags...


Why not use High Speed Flash?

Like I said earlier ,  the 645Z which I use for all of my portrait & commercial work has a top flash sync speed of 125th of a second. I have never found this to be a hinderance regardless of what I am shooting. At the time of writing this post Phottix have released a trigger that will allow the Z to go to any shutterspeed as long as it is used with Phottix lighting. I am sure it is only a matter of time before other triggers follow suit to enable other manufactures lighting systems to be used up to 8000th sec. I have found & this is just my personal opinion that using less power and higher shutterspeeds to achieve shallow DOF flash images doesn't have the same feel as using the powers I like to use but killing the light with ND filters. Many photographers I know swear by HS flash and at times I do use it with my Canon system but at this time my style is defined by the look this way of shooting affords me. 

I have always been a fan of shooting with ND filters anyway so when & if this ugrade occurs I see no reason to change the way I shoot. 


A selection of BTS footage from different shoots seeing the Lee ND filters in use..

A selection of BTS footage from different shoots. Using Pentax 645z | Elinchrom |Manfrotto & Lee ND filters.. To see more images from this footage please go to - INSTAGRAM & BHP PORTRAITS